Cuba vs. United States: What needs to change (first) in 2013

47b4c8ff2ee56d8bde796b37a5d54ab3Graham Sowa: I am about to complete my third year living away from my home (Grapevine, Texas, USA) and my first of six years living in Cuba.  My enrollment in the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) has begun a major change in my adventure in obtaining an education.  I enjoy listening to insightful stories and well-formed opinions; similarly, I enjoy the opportunity to share mine.  I am consistently amazed at how little material and social culture separates me from my peers, no matter where they hail from.  My current hobbies include reading, fishing and debate.     


Graham Sowa

cuba-usa1HAVANA TIMES — In 2013 the United States should end the travel ban and heavy restrictions on United States Citizens in regard to travel to Cuba. President Obama should use executive office powers at his disposal to weaken the blockade/embargo.

I’ve left the United States many times to various countries. Every day I realize more and more what a privilege this has been. The vast majority of the world has not even been able to come close to being able to do that. And I think that privilege has made me oblivious to the absolute necessity world travel is to humanity. It is sad that even though my government has benefited so much by making travel ridiculously easy for us they still think that they are doing us a favor by telling us we can’t go to Cuba.

Those of us that do have the privilege to travel, or know people that do, should try to make travel more meaningful for others.

I have noticed that when I have friends traveling to another country I don’t even take enough time to really learn about where they are going. And that ignorance limits my ability to answer the question: “Do you want anything from where I’m going”?

I usually just stammer for words and think of the most generic cultural item I can from that general part of the world. I mean, after all, I’m from the United States of America; what could any other country in the world have that I don’t have access to…right?

I think that question is even harder to ask if you are from the United States and someone you know is traveling to Cuba. I know when I ask people what they want from the island they usually say “Cohiba cigars and Havana Club rum”.

I just wish I knew who to blame for their lack of knowledge of Cuba. (Also, a bit ironic that they are asking for products produced directly by the Cuban state, which we are supposed to be against.)

I think there are lots of places to place blame for Americans having little to no knowledge of Cuba. The primary recipient of that blame (yes, there are others, but none that does as much damage) is the travel restriction to Cuba and the blockade.

I think that is why a lot of Americans don’t know enough about Cuba to ask for something from here other than Cohiba and Havana Club. But the Cubans, they know A LOT about the United States. And they are definitely able to request very specific and important items.

I’ve been asked for “an American made” sturdy work watch that is water proof and “keeps the time well unlike that Chinese crap”. I’ve been asked for birthday present Sponge Bob doll for a family member. I’ve been asked for information about opportunities outside of Cuba as well.

All of those things reflect knowledge about the United States (even though I hate Sponge Bob because it is empty garbage. But you know what, that kid is getting that dumb doll).

On the other hand an “American made” watch of any brand might be a bit more of a struggle since my country is producing less of anything these days.

I think the United States ending the travel ban to Cuba would help Americans become more knowledgeable about Cuba. And I think ending the blockade would be of huge benefit to the Cuban people and help them get more stuff they don’t have ready access to.

I realize there are those who feel the Cuban state is at fault for all this. I say that of the things the Cuban state is at fault for, this is not one of them. We have and enforce laws punish people who travel to Cuba and trade with Cuba.

The limitations that Cuba imposes are most because of low income, not because the country actually outlaws buying of products from the exterior. We, the United States, need to change. More importantly: we need to change first.

People from my home should be able to know enough about the diversity, as emerging as it might be, of Cuban products. They need to know that there is Santero Rum (among dozens of others) instead of Havana Club. They need to know that they they can ask for some hand made shoes from a non-state union of workers.

I hope that the next time I give someone a refrigerator magnet with on old American car crudely painted on it that I got from the touristy part of Havana Vieja they will look me in the eyes and say “I this all Cuba really has to offer”?

I feel that a lot of people in the United States think that Cuba is communist and that means it lacks all variety and variation. We should be able to see for ourselves if that is true or not.




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